Master mind: Capers rebuilds reputation
Few teams actually start making more plays.
Going into their bye week, the Green Bay Packers—what’s left of them—are coming off of a road shutout of the New York Jets and a 45-7 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys. Green Bay is giving up an average of 15.9 points per game, second in the league behind Pittsburgh.
It’s a strong endorsement for defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose flexibility and creativity has gone a long way toward keeping the injury-riddled Packers in contention and atop the NFC North. And if Capers keeps this up, the 60-year-old former Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans boss just might work his way back into NFL front office conversations about upcoming coaching vacancies.
When asked if he wants to be a head coach again, Capers laughs it off—but he doesn’t exactly say no, either.
“I don’t ever let that type of thing enter my mind, to tell you the truth,” Capers said. “I’ve done it twice before, and my job from the day that Mike (McCarthy) brought me on board here is try to do everything I can to help this football team achieve its goal. I think that you certainly have to represent the things that you talk to the players about all the time. And that’s focus on the things you have control over, and try to get this defense playing as well as it can play and get a group of guys to come together with a common goal.”
Winston Moss, the Packers’ assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach, says teams would be wise to take another look at Capers.
“I have been in this league for 20-plus years as a player and coach, and I have not been around a better person,” said Moss, a potential head coaching candidate himself. “I am very hard to impress, and coach Capers impresses me. So should he get another shot? Absolutely. … You have to throw the age out of the equation. You evaluate him on what he can bring, the kind of respect that he can ultimately command from the staff, from his players. It’s not even close. Not. Even. Close.”
The Packers have 10 players and five starters on injured reserve. The biggest defensive losses were linebacker Nick Barnett, rookie safety Morgan Burnett—who was filling in for Atari Bigby, who was on the physically unable to perform list until this week—and outside linebacker Brad Jones.
Capers doesn’t want his team to fall into a “victim mentality.”
“It’s been challenging through the first half of the season because we have had a lot of change, we’ve had a lot of players that haven’t been able to quite have the practice time you’d like to have to get ready,” Capers said. “But the one thing that they have done, they’ve prepared well enough to go out and play, I think, at a pretty good level.”
The Packers still have plenty of talent on defense: Charles Woodson was the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year last season, and second-year outside linebacker Clay Matthews is making a bid to win the award this year.
The Packers have a strong defensive line anchored by Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, though Jenkins and Pickett are playing through injuries and there’s little depth behind Raji. At one point, Capers was turning to backup offensive linemen in short yardage situations.
Injuries have forced Capers and his assistants to turn to less established players to stay in business, and it’s working.
Reliable nickel cornerback Tramon Williams has asserted himself as a potential Pro Bowl player after veteran Al Harris began the season on the physically unable to perform list. The Packers released Harris, paving the way for a potential long-term deal for Williams.
Less likely success stories include a pair of undrafted free agent rookies, cornerback Sam Shields and outside linebacker Frank Zombo. Shields is playing nickel cornerback, and coaches believe he also can develop into a Pro Bowl player. Zombo went from winning an unlikely roster spot out of training camp to becoming an even-less-likely occasional starter.
While much of the credit goes to the players and the position coaches, Capers said he does enjoy being more hands-on as a coordinator than he could be as a head coach. He’s putting players in positions to be successful, stopping the run first and then unleashing creative blitzes from his 3-4 scheme.
“I like being with the players, I like the X and O part, I like the strategy part of the game,” Capers said. “That’s fun to me. I’ve always enjoyed it. And when you’ve got good guys to work with and everybody pulling in the same direction, it makes it very rewarding when you can see a group of guys go out and take the approach that we’ve taken and go out and be able to see it come to fruition.
“We’ve got a long ways to go. But I think that if we keep the kind of attitude and keep working, we can get better and better.”
If they do, Capers might draw interest from teams looking for a new head coach. And while he acknowledges that the league trend is toward younger head coaches, he hints that he wouldn’t mind trying again.
“I’d like to think I’m not over the hill,” Capers said.